21 November 2006

Video Review

Should soccer move to using video replays?

Landry and I have debated this before, and I tend to be rather skeptical about it. But it would seem I'm in the minority. Arsene Wenger and Mark Hughes, among others, have called for it. And now the call is coming from Keith Hackett, which is pretty important because he's in charge of the Premiership referees. If the Prem wants it, it's likely to happen.

Most of the English arguments for and against video review are based on its use in rugby and cricket. I don't watch either, so it's impossible for me to judge how well it works there. But I have seen it used often in American football (gridiron) and it's clear that this model wouldn't work in soccer. (Here are the American football instant replay rules.) The key factor is that the referee has 90 seconds to review the play. In reality, it takes far longer. For one thing, the referees tend to take as much time as they need, and often will take two minutes or longer. Add to that the time that it takes the referee to walk to the monitor on the sideline, get the headphones on, and then to walk back after the review, and the whole process can take three or four minutes.

That kind of delay would be hideous in a soccer game. The arguments I've heard -- and this is from people who I respect -- say that it would never take so long. I'm unconvinced. For one thing, the referee has to travel to and from the monitor on the sidelines; there's no way around that. And if there's any situation that's less than completely obvious, the referee will need to see things several times to make a decision. That includes any situation where there's a very close decision, or a player blocking the camera, or multiple camera angles to consider. Again, other people will argue that it can be quick. But I remain convinced that a video decision would take between 90 seconds and three minutes to complete. That's all added to the existing stoppage time, of course.

So what kinds of things would be reviewed? It's important to be clear about what things the referee can and can't consider. The current discussion is around whether the ball crossed the goal line. And I can see that this would be a reasonable application. But these situations are quite rare -- maybe one or two in a season. Are there any other situations where video replay could be used?So there are a very few situations where video review could possibly be used. But in the end, I don't expect that it would make a huge difference in the quality of games we would watch. The one situation that seriously needs refereeing help -- offsides -- is not going to be reviewable. And the situations that are practical are uncommon enough that they won't make a major impact.

There is one area where I would be a big proponent of video review, however. And that's for post-game analysis. Leagues already do this to review violent play and other offenses. I would extend this practice, so that players can accumulate red and yellow cards based on events that the ref doesn't see -- as well as allowing the ref to subsequently upgrade a yellow card to a red if the incident was more serious than he realized.

I'd also use video evidence to review diving. It's much easier to see some of the blatant dives in slow motion, and retroactive yellow cards would be a very reasonable deterrent. Five dives and you're suspended for a game -- that works for me.

But perhaps most importantly: video review of games should be a regular practice -- in order to evaluate how well the referees perform. Maybe this is done already, but if so it's secretive. I would personally love to see referees held to public account for their performances. Even with a perfect video review system, there would still be hundreds of unreviewable refereeing decisions in every match, so referees will always have the ability to screw things up royally.

Which is comforting, if you think about it. Can we really afford to lose the best excuse for a team's poor result?

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